Members of the Saint Leo community reflect upon the meaning of duty and sacrifice in law enforcement during National Police Week.

For many who enter criminal justice careers, the work they do is not just work. It is a calling or sense of commitment that keeps them going no matter what challenges or dangers they face.

The risks involved with the profession sadly were exemplified recently when a Saint Leo University alumna was killed in the line of duty.

Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Chelsea Richard was investigating a car accident in Marion County on May 3 when she and two others were struck by a pickup truck. Richard was a nine-year veteran of the Highway Patrol and was pursuing her master's degree in criminal justice online at Saint Leo.

"There is nothing routine about being in law enforcement. You put your life on the line every time you put on your uniform," said Dr. Robert Diemer, Director of Saint Leo University's Graduate Criminal Justice Program who began his career as an officer and has 35 years of law enforcement experience. "Yet everyday officers such as Trooper Richard are willing to face the dangers because of their commitment to serving the public."

Honoring the fallen

Richard was honored with a moment of silence at a memorial ceremony for fallen officers at the Florida State Capitol on May 5. Nationwide, memorial ceremonies are occurring this month as law enforcement officers pause to remember friends and colleagues lost. Many will come together during National Police Week, observed this year from May 11-17, to show support for those have been killed in the line of duty. The many local and national events include the National Peace Officers' Memorial Day Services, held this year on May 15 in Washington, D.C.

As part of National Police Week, 286 officers who were killed in the line of duty will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, names that include 100 officers killed in 2013 as well as 186 who died in previous years but had yet to be memorialized.

Inspired to serve

These ceremonies are powerful and reflective experiences, especially for officers who face dangers daily. But they work hard at their jobs despite risks, driven by a strong sense of duty.

A tragic event inspired Robert Sullivan, Saint Leo criminal justice instructor, to join the police force, rather than shy away from the job.

He was in high school when a deputy in his hometown was shot and killed pursuing two suspects in the rape and murder of a pregnant woman. Sullivan knew then what he wanted to do with his life. He served with the Pasco County Sheriff's Department for 26 years, retiring as captain in 2007.

He accepted the risks inherent with law enforcement because he felt called to the profession out of "an ingrained drive to rid the world of injustice."

Staying focused despite fear

Focusing on the bigger picture allows you to move forward even when you're scared, says Dr. Eloy Nuñez, who served with the Miami-Dade Police Department for 26 years. You can feel fear, Nuñez says, but you can't let it hold you back.

"You take a deep breath, and you just do it," Nuñez says. "You focus so hard on the task at hand that you don't have time to be scared. You do it because you don't want to let anybody down. You do it because all those around you are courageous."

His responsibility to the community sunk in the first time he put on his uniform. Now an associate professor in Saint Leo's Department of Public Safety Administration, Nuñez tells his students, above all, to take their oaths of office seriously -- they are public servants.

"Police work is not about any one individual," Nuñez says. "It's about all the courageous men and women who have preceded you in the job, who have given it their all, at great sacrifice."

Dedication and patience required

The law enforcement memorials encourage everyone to take time to reflect on those sacrifices as well as the crucial work officers do on a regular basis.

National Police Week is an important week to ensure that no fallen officer is ever forgotten, says Det. Alyce Clark, a forensic investigator with the Norfolk Police Department. The Law Enforcement Memorial holds an additional significance for Clark, as she got married there in September 2013.

Clark completed her bachelor's degree in criminal justice online at Saint Leo in May 2013 while working for Norfolk Police and serving on military deployments to Iraq. Her experience in law enforcement has made her a better person, she says, and changed her outlook on life, because she knows how it feels to work in a job where she must put her life on the line. Early in her career, a friend of hers from her academy class was killed in the line of duty.

"I know what it's like to mourn when a fellow officer is killed," Clark says. "This job isn't for everyone, but most of the people who are police officers take the job seriously. It takes dedication and patience to work in law enforcement, and I value the relationships I have made throughout the years with my fellow co-workers."

What is your motivation for wanting to go into law enforcement?

Image Credit: Elvert Barnes on flickr

Other posts you may be interested in:

5 Things Every Graduating Criminal Justice Student Needs To Know

After 20 Years, Veteran Officer Earns Criminal Justice Degree Online